Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Teach Your Dog Polite Leash Walking

Teaching your dog to walk politely on the leash takes some time, energy and consistency, but the results last a lifetime. I'm going to talk about simple, easy techniques and gentle equipment to help your walks with your dog be more enjoyable for everyone, human and dog alike.

A Rewarding Approach to Leash Learning
Dogs learn by association. They do what works. And if pulling gets them where they want to go, they pull. We have to make the right choice (not pulling) the easiest (and more rewarding) choice to make. This starts with the human changing their behavior-not letting the dog pull them down the street.

We want forward movement with us to be the most rewarding thing, but with the leash loose. In reward based training, there are many variations on how to do this. Here's just one method used with clickers marking the dog's correct body position:

Balance Leash
Another method to help the dog understand that we want them moving with us instead if pulling us down the street is the Balance Leash technique. This is simply using the leash draped around the dog's chest to give a light signal to balance on all four feet. A balanced dog is not a pulling dog. Here's balance leash at work:

For more techniques on polite leash walking check out:

Dog Star Daily's article and resources for Pulling on Leash

Prongs are a pain in Germany too!

K9 Kindness is working hard to raise money for their "No Choke Challenge", which promotes training your dog without force or fear and provides free front clip body harnesses in exchange for shock, prong, and choke chains. Local reward based trainers working with K9 Kindness are leading the charge in providing fast, fun and effective methods for improving your dog's polite leash walking without equipment that hurts. Please help support the efforts of K9 Kindness by friending them on Facebook and making a donation to the "No Choke Challenge".

Here's a great video from a similar organization in Germany showing two very cute Aussies with tails. You don't need to speak German to get the point of the video.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Prong collars are a pain in the neck!!

This is a prong collar. Prong collars are a correction based metal collar that applies pressure to the dog's neck when it tightens.  Like any piece of training equipment, it must be used properly with knowledge of the intended use and the physical and behavioral side effects.  The problem is there are many folks are out there using prong collars on their dogs without any thought of using it safely, properly or what the experience is like for their dog.
The prong is designed to give a correction for an unwanted behavior (for example, pulling on the leash).  As with other types of punishment based training techniques, the correction must be timed perfectly and applied with the right amount of force.  But what a lot of average dog owners do (who have pretty crappy timing even on the best of days) is just put the prong on without fitting it or using corrections and let the dog pull.  We pull less, cause it hurts, but you continue to use the prong for months if not years, so the dog learns to walk with constant pressure on their neck.   This is not what the prong was designed for.   If the prong is such an all around effective training tool, why do people continue to use it for that length of time?

It Works Because It Hurts!!  It doesn't take a genius to figure out the seemingly quick fix provided by a prong collar-the dog stops pulling because it hurts!!! You'd stop whatever you were doing too if you wore this thing around one of the most sensitive parts of your body. Here's what a prong collar leaves behind on human skin after only a minute of contact. Now imagine that on your neck where you get oxygen and blood flow.  What happens when you feel reduced oxygen and blood flow?  Nuff said.

What's It Like for Us-I can't imagine that thing being on my neck and those pieces of metal pressing against windpipe. It would make me really uneasy and anxious all the time.  This dog sure doesn't look comfortable. But what else can happen when you use a prong collar??
Break Away Prongs-Your prong collar can break apart unexpendedly.  About 10 years ago, Jenn was walking with her friend in Duke Forest one day and they saw a dog run past them and into the road.  The owner came running saying that the dog's prong broke apart.  Luckily, she got her dog back, but the owner learned an important lesson about prongs.   They are not as safe as they seem.  Jenn remembers this and has heard many other stories of prongs breaking apart and failing.  One of the top promoters of prong collars suggests using a choke collar with the prong just in chase the prong breaks.  Most people can't even manage using the prong correctly.  Just sayin'.

Not Meant To Be Worn During Activities-Prongs are not designed to be used during any dog activities, like running, playing, going to the park.  And never let your dog play with other dogs while in a prong.  That may seem like common sense, but there are people that take their dogs to the park and leave the prong collar on while they play setting their dog or someone else's dog up for a soft tissue injury or worse.  Not a good idea. 

Soft Tissue Injuries-Tissues injuries can occur if the there is too much force or pressure put onto the prong.  That could be leaving the prong on all the time.  Here's a dog that had his prong collar left on all the time creating pressure necrosis (decaying skin).  Uggh!  Your dog should never be tethered in a prong collar or wear it all the time.  And that goes for any collar that creates pressure.
Retractable Dangers/Neck-Spinal Injury-Prongs are especially dangerous when they are used with retractable leashes.   Exactly what happens if your dog runs like a shot out to the end of the 15 foot retractable leash while on a prong collar?  Ouch!!   When we are out on walks, we routinely see people using prongs and retractable leashes improperly.   If you are using a prong, please don't use a retractable leash with it.

Psychological Effects-Aside from obvious physical injuries and physical issues, behavioral side effects from using prong collars can be even worse and take much longer to heal or resolve. Because dogs are associative learners, many dogs react not just with avoiding the pain from the prong collar, but can also develop a negative association to whatever is around that predicts the pain sensations.  Most people don't even realize that their dog is developing a problem, because the dog learns to become unresponsive to avoid corrections.

So, you are out walking your dog, they see another dog down the street, they pull forward the handlers applies a corrective jerk on the prong collar, the dog associates bad things (pain on their neck) with the presence of another dog. With repeated experiences, other dogs = bad things and dog responds with increase arousal and reactions, and with even more intensity when the prong collar comes off. Jenn says that she sees this time and time again: behaviorally healthy dogs developing behavioral problems and reactivity after being put on prong collars.
Once the prongs come off, the dog is less inhibited and the pent up frustrations come out in force. So now you have a dog that doesn't pull as much when the prong is used, but hates other dogs or cars or people or children.   Eeshh!!

But hold on a second, because I think it is important for you to know that Jenn used to train with equipment like prong and choke collars until someone showed her that she could get the same (if not better results without causing pain or discomfort to the dog).  When she started using dog training methods based on positive reinforcement (rewarding what you like vs. punishing what you don't like), Jenn found that her training became more effective, more efficient, and it was a ton of fun for her and the dogs she was working with.   Jenn really liked that she could teach children the methods, and that you could start training puppies with reward based methods as early as 5 weeks of age. 

Most importantly, with reward based training there are none of the possible physical or behavioral side effects of using punishment based methods.   The same reward based methods are being used by K9 police trainers, guide dog programs, and with marine mammal and zoo trainers. 

Check out this poster with video links to learn about how reward based training techniques are being used in zoos all over the world to teach animals of every size and shape. 

If we can teach a killer whale to pee in a cup, can't we teach a dog to walk on leash without a prong collar??  Indeed friends. And that's the topic of my next blog. In the meatime, look at me rocking in my body harness and Jenn's use of two points of connection! Relaxed and balanced on all four feet without any pressure on my neck.   Want to learn more about the use of reward based training?  Check out the resources page at K9 Kindness.